Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced by centre in Lok Sabha in July 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who belong to six communities viz. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship of India. The bill also proposed to relax the requirements of citizenship by naturalization. The current requirement is that the applicant must have resided in India during last 12 months and for 11 of previous 14 years. The bill relaxes this 11 years requirement to six years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries.

Illegal Immigrants

Under the Citizenship Act, 1955; illegal migrants are prohibited from acquiring Indian Citizenship. An illegal immigrant is one who either enters the country without valid travel documents (passport & visa) or have the valid travel documents but stay beyond permitted time period.

Under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, the illegal migrants can be imprisoned or deported. These acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within India.

In 2015 and 2016, the central government had issued notifications to exempt certain communities including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived in India on or before 31-12-2014. The government decided to not to deport or imprison them for being in India without valid documents. The proposed bill makes required changes so that these people can be eligible for citizenship.

Provisions Related to OCI Cards

The proposed bill is also making amendments to provisions related to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders. The OCI cardholders are allowed some facilities like right to travel to India for work and study. The bill proposed to allow government to cancel OCI registration if a person has violated any law.

Issues

Since the act makes provisions only for six communities from three countries and excludes Muslims, Jews, Atheists and others; and thus raises a question if it would violate the article 14 (right to equality and discrimination on the basis of religion). Various groups have already started protesting against the bill calling it “communally motivated humanitarianism”. The larger implications of this bill would be in North East where most illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are Muslims.

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